February 17, 2011

The Final Days of Fitch Bishop

This weathered stone marks the grave of Fitch Bishop, patriarch of my husband’s ancestors in Portage County, Ohio. Pitted with age, the letters indistinct and barely legible, the stone reads: “FITCH BISHOP, DIED May 22, 1868, AGED 56 yrs, 9 mos.”

Fitch’s death was unexpected and sudden. On May 17, 1873, his wife, Sarah, wrote in her diary, “5 years today since my husband was stricken down in full health with his last sickness, I cannot realize it.” On May 19, she recalled, “I was watching by the bed of a sick and dying husband.”

It appears that Fitch may have suffered a stroke or heart attack that did not immediately kill him, but left him lingering in a greatly weakened state. The concern was immediate. A will was hastily drawn up and witnesses gathered. On May 17th, the same day he was stricken, Fitch scrawled his signature on a paper that read:

                                   Freedom, May 17th, 1868         
                       The last will and testament of
                       Fitch Bishop
                       I hereby give and bequeath all my
                       property both real and personal
                       to my wife Sarah Ann Bishop

                       This is my last will and Testament
                                                      Fitch Bishop
                                          {         E. R. Kneeland
                          Witnesses {         J. J. Hutchins

I imagine that a doctor was called and everything possible done to make Fitch comfortable. Fitch and Sarah’s three living children no doubt drew near. Annette, 21, and Walter, 16, living at home, could have been by his side at once. George, almost 27, had to be summoned. If George was still working as a wagon-maker in Hiram, as he had been in 1860, it was a short ride to Freedom. Augusta Bishop, widow of Fitch’s oldest son, Albert, might have brought eight-year-old Theodore to his grandfather’s bedside. 

Work in the fields and routine household chores likely stopped for a time. Neighbors and friends, alerted to the crisis, might have come by to see Fitch and offer words of comfort to Sarah. But in the end, all they could do was wait.

Five days later, Fitch succumbed. The Portage County Democrat reported only, “In Freedom, on the 22d of May, ult., of heart disease, after a few days illness, Mr. Fitch Bishop, aged 57 years.” A grieving Sarah had to make funeral arrangements and prepare for another trip to Freedom West Cemetery, where she had already laid two sons and a granddaughter to rest.

I feel fortunate to have such a variety of records to draw on regarding the end of Fitch’s life, sad as it was. What I wouldn’t give for just one to tell me about his beginnings!

1.  Portage County Genealogical Society, compiler, Portage County, Ohio Cemeteries, Volume IV: Freedom Township and Windham Township (Ravenna, Ohio: the society, 1993), p. 90-91.
2.  Sarah Ann Barnum Bishop, Pocket Diary 1873, entries for May 17 and May 19. This diary passed from Theodore H. Bishop to Annah L. Bishop to Robert F. Bishop; privately held by Shelley Bishop.

3.  Portage County, Ohio, probate file 2108 (loose papers), Fitch Bishop, Portage County Historical Society, Ravenna.

4.  Fitch Bishop obituary, Portage County Democrat (Ravenna, Ohio), 3 June 1868, p. 2 col. 8.

Related Posts:

Albert Bishop (1828-1865)
More Questions than Answers: Augusta Bishop
The Short Story of Walter H. Bishop
Walter F. Bishop, Aged 20 yrs.
Lettie A. Bishop-Wednesday's Child

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